In the coming weeks I will preview a variety of options for the Redskins next head coach, assuming that Mike Shanahan is fired after this year. First up is former Steelers coach Bill Cowher.
Bill Cowher is probably the most successful coach you could find either just out of the league or in the league right now, not named Bill Belichick. He amassed a 149-90-1 record in 15 years with the Pittsburgh Steelers. He had 9 division titles during that time period, made the playoffs 10 times, won two AFC Titles and one Super Bowl.
In his 15 years in Pittsburgh Cowher had just three losing seasons, which is the same number that Mike Shanahan will have had in 4 years in DC. After his first two years in the playoffs where he lost his first game, he won at least one game every other playoff run. Of his 10 playoff trips, 6 of them ended up in the Conference Championship Game. His Steelers teams were not someone who squeaked into the playoffs, but a force to be reckoned with and typically one of the favorites. While some fans and pundits may have complained that he didn’t win enough conference championships, the fact that he was there so often was impressive. The ability to win in the playoffs, and make it to the “final four” is impressive, it’s impossible to win the SB if you can’t do those two things, so Cowher consistently put his team in a position to be World Champs.
For comparison in Mike Shanahan’s 14 seasons as Denver’s head coach, he had a slightly lower winning percentage, .623-.616 (very impressive for both), but the real difference comes in division titles and the postseason. Shanahan may have won two Super Bowls to Cowher’s 1, but the rest of the numbers are clearly in Bill Cowher’s favor. Cowher had 9 division titles to just 3 for Shanahan. Division titles not only mean a guaranteed playoff spot, but a home playoff game which is great for fans and of course gives you a better chance to advance. Mike Shanahan went to the playoffs in 7 of his 14 years in Denver, but only made three conference championship games. In fact he only won a playoff game in three of those seven years.
Another thing in Bill Cowher’s favor is the fact that he’s proven that he can win with anyone. The knock on Mike Shanahan has always been that his success has always been associated with John Elway. Shanahan went to the postseason 3 of the 4 seasons he was with Elway and won 7 of his 8 playoff games with him. Since Elway, Shanahan has been back to the post season 5 times in 14 years (counting his Redskins tenure) and has only won 1 of 6 playoff contests. Bill Cowher never really had that franchise QB in Pittsburgh. Cowher went to the playoffs with Neil O’Donnell, Mike Tomczak, Kordell Stewart, Tommy Maddox, and Ben Roethlisberger. Of those only Roethlisberger was even close to the mark as a Franchise QB, and Cowher went to the playoffs with him in his first two seasons (and won the Super Bowl), despite the fact that Roethlisberger wasn’t yet near his peak.
Cowher’s ability to win with anyone extends beyond his revolving door of quarterbacks. The Steelers were a run first team, and they went to the postseason behind leading rushers Barry Foster, Leroy Thompson, Bam Morris, Eric Pegram, Jerome Bettis, Amos Zereoue, and Willie Parker. It didn’t matter who the Steelers had or if their top back missed time with injury, someone was going to step up and be a rushing threat. Pittsburgh’s entire philosophy (and still to this day) was next man up. They weren’t big spenders in free agency and would notoriously lose multiple top free agents every season. Some they may have regretted losing, but for the most part they just moved on to the next guy and continued to win.
Though Cowher’s achievements and the path that he took to get there are impressive enough, perhaps the most impressive thing about a potential Bill Cowher led team is the fact that he recognizes that he can’t do it alone. The rumor with Cowher a couple of years ago was that he’d only be willing to come back to the sidelines if he could work with a top notch personnel guy (his preference being Steelers G.M. Kevin Colbert). Most big name coaches of late have tried to do it all in recent years and many have failed. The fact that Cowher sees that and wants to avoid it, speaks volumes of his understanding of the game and his ability to work with others.
Well it might not be the easiest sell in the world given all the controversy surrounding the Redskins and their coaches since Dan Snyder has taken over, but it could still be doable. One thing to consider is that Cowher coached under Marty Schottenheimer so there could be some issues there that need smoothing out.
Outside of that Washington could have some things that interest Cowher a great deal. The Redskins are set to have significant cap room over the next couple of years, and an owner who is willing to spend. That’s something that Cowher didn’t have in Pittsburgh, and something he’d probably like to see with his next job. The Redskins also have a good foundation to work with, that could allow Cowher to quickly get them back to the top of this division and a perennial contender. While the Redskins could make a transition back to the 4-3, Cowher would probably like the fact that they are already a 3-4 team and build them up in that regard. Cowher also would likely enjoy the market size of DC and the proximity to his North Carolina home.
Well I would say the chances are still pretty slim, but I wouldn’t completely rule out a Cowher led Redskins team. Cowher would surely want little owner interference, but that shouldn’t be too much of an issue since that has been the case under Mike Shanahan. Also, Dan Snyder will definitely pay the price whatever that may be to land Cowher. The big issue probably has more to do with whether Cowher wants to come back to coaching or not this year. I think window of coming back is in the next three years, so Cowher has to weigh whether this is the job he wants to come back to. If Cowher were to come back this year the Redskins job would arguably be the best job that is likely open (Giants if Coughlin retires and Houston could be others in the mix). I still would say that it’s still a long shot just because it’s unclear if Cowher wants back in.